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Dorm Life - Cheap College Living Tips

Posted In:  family  other

Few things are as a great as an investment as a college education, with it, you'll equip yourself with the skills and knowledge for a successful career, and guard yourself against future financial difficulties. That said, it sure is hard to stay within budget while attending college. We understand, and have put together a list of a few tips and tricks to save you money during your college years. 

Tuition, textbooks, and supplies

  1. Campus library-Take advantage of the library- Sometimes, you can rent the books out of the library for free, and of course you can score yourself some free entertainment with the selection of easy reading books and novels, as well as DVDs and movies. Be sure to take advantage of free internet access for research and studying.
  2. Avoid "for sale" pre-written papers- Because they go around, chances are your professor will be able to tell that you bought it. Write your own to avoid the bad grade, humiliation and waste of money.
  3. Dollar store- For simple supplies like notebooks, rulers, pencil holders and pens visit the dollar store.
  4. Saving money on books- Rent them, or get them used to scale back on the cost of textbooks. For more tips check out our article "Eight ways to save money on textbooks"
  5. Save money on lab costs- Before plonking down the cost on lab fees, get a list of the things you need a purchase lab equipment such as beakers and test tubes from a surplus store.
  6. Shop at the right time- If you are planning on buying any expensive supplies, a laptop or computer shop around "back to school" time for great discounts for college kids.
  7. Scholarships- Are you eligible? Talk to your campus counselor, and apply for as many as possible. is a helpful site for finding them.
  8. 529 savings plan- Take advantage of this if possible! Please. Read more from our article "Use 529 savings plan to help with kids college costs"
  9. Desktop vs. laptop- If you know you won't be using your computer that much outside your apartment or dorm, go for a desktop unit and save hundreds.
  10. Use freeware!- Don't purchase MS programs (word, excel, spreadsheet, etc.) Download OpenOffice's similar and compatible programs for free.
  11. Learn more, save more- Take the maximum amount of credits/classes per quarter to get the most of your tuition

Food and dining

  1. Don't buy overpriced coffee- Avoid overpriced coffee chains by brewing yours at home, or buying from the cafeteria if it's reasonably priced. Invest in an insulated mug to take it on-the-go.
  2. Get creative with ramen- These things never cost more than fifteen cents per package. Think outside the box, and jazz up your ramen. A few ideas are posted in "Rockin the Ramen - Creative and frugal ramen noodle recipes"
  3. Brown bag it! -Make a lunch to bring with you. School lunches can cost over five dollars! This significantly adds up over time.
  4. Eat breakfast- Avoid impulsively spending money on junk food during the day by eating breakfast. It will keep your satisfied until lunch, and give your brain a jump start. Oatmeal is a great choice: Frugal, healthy, easy to make and filling.
  5. Keep your coupons- Don't throw away any that are sent to you in the mail, and consider using them when it becomes time to grocery shop. Look for some online too. Try Coupon Cabin, SmartSource and CoolSavings.
  6. Generic brands- Skip the name brand and go for the store brand. Really, your just paying extra for the packaging. In most cases, you can't taste the difference.
  7. Dollar store- Just like simple school supplies, you'd be surprised how many food staples are at the dollar store. Sometimes, even name brands.
  8. Spaghetti budget- Spaghetti and sauce are around a dollar each, and macaroni and cheese is about a dollar a box. Do go for cheap and tasty meals.
  9. Visit the farmer's market- There are many bargains to be made out here. Many farmers will still haggle with out.
  10. Go for water- When you eat out, skip the juice, soda or tea and opt for water- the free and healthy selection.
  11. Learn to cook on the cheap- Saving money on cooking doesn't mean eating buy one get one free cans of beans for two weeks straight. Brush up on your cooking skills and learn to cook on the cheap without sacrificing taste. Check out SavingTools's articles "Cooking on a dime" as well "Cooking on a dime, Part 2" for ideas, tips, and recipes.

Gas and transportation

  1. Public transit- If your lucky enough to be in an area where there is a local bus or railway system, use it! Most cities offer discounts for college students. If you travel a lot, you'll save money by getting a bus pass rather than paying for each individual ride.
  2. Drive a stick- They generally use less gas than an automatic.
  3. Carpool- People do it for work, and you may have done it as a kid in elementary school. Why not now? Learn how to start a carpool.
  4. Skate, walk or bike around- It's also a great source of exercise.
  5. Find the cheapest gas station- Simply type in your zipcode, city or state at Gasbuddy or Mapquest's Gas Prices to find the fill up stations with the cheapest gas in your area.
  6. Plan your errands- Make a few lists, and knock out all your errands on one trip to save money on gasoline costs.
  7. Scooter- These things get you around fine, and need significantly less gas than a car.
  8. DIY- Don't pay a mechanic a lot to change your oil. Do it yourself, or have a friend do it. If you have any talented friends, see it you can pay them a fraction of what you'd pay a mechanic for repairs. Just be sure to return the favor someday! Oh, and dispose of the used oil responsibly...most auto parts stores will take the used oil.
  9. Shop around for car insurance- Check out our insurance tips.

Alcohol- The best advice is to not drink, it costs quite a bit initially and the lowered inhibitions may cause you to spend more. But with college students spending around 5.5 million annually on alcohol, it seems like it is just not something they are going to give up. Here a few ways to drink smarter.

  1. Buy the cheap stuff- Skip the expensive beers, wines and mixers and go for the cheap stuff. Think Old English 40 ounce bottles, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, Natural Light, Mickey's and Milwaukee's Best.
  2. Drink at home- Obviously, you are going to spend less by drinking at home rather than at a bar with overpriced drinks.
  3. Stay at home- Domestic drinks are always cheaper than the imports
  4. Browse ads- Grocery stores sometimes have great deals on 12 or 18 packs of name brand beer, or bottles of wine. Browse the weekly advertisement, and you may find a sweet surprise.
  5. College specials?- See if there are any bars or pubs around that have "college night" or offer specials on drinks.
  6. Do it yourself- Learn how to Brew your own beer. (Make sure it's legal in your state)
  7. Have everybody pitch in- Ask people you will be drinking with to "throw down" for a large quantity of alcohol to share and save money.
  8. Make cheap drinks- You can make a few cheap mixed drinks with a medium bottle of decent vodka, and a can of pineapple or grapefruit juice. A can of juice runs around a dollar.
  9. Go during happy hour- Go to places that have great happy hour specials like buy one get one free, half off, or free appetizers.

Room & board/rent/utilities/other bills

  1. Get a roommate- Split the costs of rent, utilities, cable or any other extras down the middle.
  2. Pay it on time!- Mark your calendar, set reminders in your phone, hang up sticky notes. Do whatever you have to do to make sure you pay your bills on time. The late fees add up.
  3. Stay at home- If possible, stay living at home during your college career. True, it may not be the "cool" thing to do, but you'll sure have a lot more cash
  4. Save money on your water bill- Some have combined water bills (where the price of the amount of water used in the whole building is split evenly), and some have individual water bills. Remember that leaving the water on when you brush your teeth doesn't get your teeth any whiter. Read a few tips from "Sneaky ways to reduce your water bill"
  5. Efficiency units- If you are going to be living alone, think about the "Studio" or "Efficiency" apartment. They are smaller than the one bedroom, and sometimes don't have doors from room to room, but can save you some money. These floor plans were truly made for one person, whereas "one bedrooms" are typically made for two people.
  6. Learn to decorate cheap- Home decor found at apartment stores sure costs a fortune. Read up on a few tips for decorating on a dime from our article "Home decor on a budget- Top 15 tips"
  7. Get one with appliances included- Make sure the unit your renting out already has appliances. Refrigerators, ovens, and microwaves are expensive and a pain to haul up stairs.
  8. Save money on your electricity bill- Even getting in the habit of turning off lights when your not using them will dramatically reduce the price of your monthly bill. Another way to save money is to unplug any appliance that is not in use. They use energy even when in "off" mode.
  9. Insulate- Consider lining your windows with plastic, foil or another insulator to keep your unit cool in the summer, and warm in the winter.


  1. Don't buy cable- Cable is just another bill, and believe it or not you can live without it. If you really want to catch a show, you can watch it over the internet on your computer.
  2. Parks- You have at least one park in your city or town. Spend an afternoon there for free fun. You could ride your bike, play with children, walk your dog or just stop and smell the roses.
  3. Library- An endless source of free entertainment. Check out your town's library in addition to the one on campus. Rent out VHS tapes, fun books, magazines and DVDs for free.
  4. Cancel subscriptions- Magazine subscriptions add up. Chances are, one of your buddies will let you browse through their back issues or you can find some at the library.
  5. Rent smart- If your a true movie addict, avoid late fees by using a program like Netflix.
  6. Be a cheap date- Going out with somebody special? Don't let it break the bank. Read our article "A cheap date: 17 tips and tricks" for fun, creative and frugal dating ideas.
  7. Play cards- Consider having a fun night in with a few friends playing poker, blackjack or another favorite card game. Bet using only coins, or something else like candy.
  8. Host a potluck- Save money and have people over at your place for a Friday night. Prepare one dish, and ask that each guest brings something to contribute.
  9. Free events- Take a glance at your local newspaper for postings on free concerts, hearings and community events.
  10. Sell and trade- Buy media used for a deep discount. You can also trade your unwanteds in for cash or store credit. Try places like CDAddict or Half Price Books.
  11. Waste time in cyberspace- If you already have the internet, use it. Entertain yourself on timewaster websites like or watch silly videos on
  12. Discount movie tickets?- They are out there. Learn how to find them.

Fashion, beauty, and grooming

  1. DIY spa- Girls, skip the pricey spa treatments and pedicure and host a "spa day" at your place. Everybody can take turns painting each other's nails and toenails, exfoliate and relax. To give it the full affect, buy a bottle of cheap wine, or prepare some finger food.for everybody to share.
  2. Save on beauty- Yes, it is possible. Learn how to be a Low-budget beauty.
  3. Save on laundry- If at all possible, take your laundry to your parent's house one weekend and get it done there. Otherwise, be sure to fill the washer and dryer to the top and buy laundry soap that is on sale. Avoid buying the overpriced, "single-serving" packages they have at the laundromat.
  4. Recycled fashion- Look for fashionable finds at thrift stores.With a little bit of browsing, you can get a chic and vintage outfit at stores like Salvation Army or Goodwill.For up-to-date looks try Buffalo Exchange or Plato's Closet (both have a very picky and selective process for deciding what items make it into their stores). At some of them, you can turn in your old threads for store credit or cash.
  5. Share the cost- If you have roommates, consider the splitting the cost for products like flat irons, curling irons and blow dryers.
  6. Skip the expensive shampoos- Fifteen dollars for a bottle of conditioner? Who can really afford that? Switch to the cheaper ones and save a bundle. Suave has a new line of salon-quality products called "Suave professionals" out that are comparable to the overpriced products sold in salons.
  7. Student discounts- Many salons have student discounts if you flash your I.D. card. Ask them, and try to only visit the ones that do.
  8. Discount stores- You can find name brand toiletries and personal products with a slashed price tag at discount retailers like Big Lots
  9. Free beauty samples- Who could say no? Find body product samples at Hey its Free, and get no strings attached, free goodies delivered right to your door.
  10. Leave Nordstroms behind- Be smart about fashion, and you can look like you walked straight off the runway for cheap. Brush up on your fashion tips with our article "The frugal fashionista- How to save on clothing and fashion"

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Re: Dorm Life - Cheap College Living Tips

Great list, wish I could go back and do the college thing again. Ate enough ramen noodles to last me a lifetime though :)